Thompson Family Scholars pose by the BGSU letters.

Accountability in student success: Thompson Foundation, BGSU announce nearly $250M in scholarships, largest single gift in state history for a scholarship program

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The Thompson Working Families Scholarship program will expand and extend into the next decade, supporting more than 6,200 students at BGSU

In a historic announcement, Bowling Green State University and the Thompson Foundation will expand their philanthropic partnership to provide nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in student scholarships at the University.

The announcement comes following the successful pressure-testing of the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program at BGSU over the last decade, with a focus on shared accountability through University resources and philanthropy to achieve student success.

When combined with their past scholarship support, Bob and Ellen Thompson shared their intent to increase their contribution to scholarships at BGSU to total $121 million, with the possibility of an additional $30 million to extend the program past 2035. If realized, the Thompsons will have contributed $150 million to student scholarships at BGSU.

This contribution will be the largest in the University’s history, the largest single gift designated to student scholarships in the state of Ohio’s history and one of the largest non-endowed scholarship programs of its kind in the nation.

“This is a generationally defining gift for thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to earn a college degree,” said BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers. “As a public university for the public good, access to higher education is at the very core of our mission, and we are incredibly grateful for the Thompsons’ unprecedented generosity in supporting student scholarships at BGSU. The impact of this gift is truly immeasurable.”

Four banners show historic photos of Robert Thompson and Ellen Bowen-Thompson

A pressure-tested scholarship program 

In 2014, Bowling Green State University alumni Robert ’55, ’06 (Hon.) and Ellen (Bowen) ’54, ’06 (Hon.) created the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program to help students from working families overcome financial barriers to higher education.

Beginning with 15 students in the first cohort, the Thompson Foundation pressure-tested the program over the last decade at BGSU, steadily extending and expanding its support as success metrics were met.

To date, 1,910 students have received Thompson Working Families scholarships at BGSU. With this gift announcement, more than 6,200 BGSU students are expected to receive Thompson scholarship support, from the program’s inception through 2035.

A shared investment for student success

Table shows the BGSU Lifetime Achievement Award given to the Thompsons in 2016

With an innovative public-private philanthropic partnership approach, the program ensures all parties are invested in student success. The University is committed to match the required Thompson scholarship funding, dollar for dollar, through University dollars and donor support for each student and ensure that students graduate in four years or less.

Scholarship recipients, known as Thompson Scholars, receive $11,000 each academic year through the program, covering much of the cost of tuition while still requiring a financial investment in earning their degree. Thompson Scholars must also commit to accountability metrics from the Thompson Foundation, such as maintaining academic progress and completing required community service hours.

The Thompson Foundation has worked closely with BGSU to measure the program’s success over the years, which has exceeded the required graduation expectations.

“When we first created this scholarship program, we wanted to make sure the dollars were put to good use with accountability throughout the entire process,” Bob Thompson said. “BGSU has proven this accountability approach works, and we are excited to publicly express our intentions to expand and extend this program into the next decade.  Ellen and I are pleased to support BGSU students who have financial need and are willing to work hard at a university that has proven its ability to support them and match these scholarship dollars.”

“Throughout the past 10 years, we have worked diligently with the Thompson Foundation to pressure-test and grow this first-of-its-kind public-private partnership aimed at accountability in achieving student success,” President Rogers said. “This is absolutely an innovative concept of philanthropy based on outcomes, with all parties – BGSU, the individual student and the Thompson Foundation – having a shared responsibility to graduate ready for career and life, with minimal student debt.”

Thompson Scholars work with dedicated Thompson Scholarship advisors and staff, who provide wraparound services for students to ensure they stay on track to graduation. Through one-on-one meetings and regular outreach, advisors provide support in a variety of areas including making connections, answering questions about majors and academics and getting involved on campus, resulting in high levels of student engagement and success.

 We recognize not all universities would be willing to accept the accountability metrics our agreement with the Thompsons requires, but we absolutely believe it is our responsibility to ensure our students are successful and each and every dollar is put to good use,” President Rogers said. “We are so pleased to continue this philanthropic partnership with the Thompson Foundation, and we look forward to working with others who will join us in the support of this program.”

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson

Bob and Ellen (Bowen) met while attending BGSU in the 1950s, both earning education degrees. After graduation, the Falcon Flames worked as teachers, with Bob later enlisting in the United States Air Force, serving as a pilot in the Korean War.

Ellen Bowen and Robert Thompson were Falcon Flames at BGSU.

Upon his return from service, the Thompsons started a family and their entrepreneurial journey, growing several successful businesses. To this day, they are known for their generosity in giving back to their employees and paying it forward by supporting education through the Thompson Foundation.

To encourage additional philanthropic momentum, the Thompsons have been highly engaged at the University, serving as a Foundation Board member, as well as honorary co-chairs of the University’s first comprehensive campaign. In recognition of their commitment to their alma mater, the University bestowed honorary degrees upon them in 2006, and in 2016, the University’s Lifetime Achievement Award, its highest honor.

Prominently located in the heart of campus, the Bowen-Thompson Student Union and the historic Bowen-Thompson Quadrangle in front of University Hall are named in honor of the Thompsons, in appreciation of their significant support and investment in student spaces and success, as well as their lasting, generational legacy to BGSU.

Ellen Bowen and Robert Thompson were Falcon Flames at BGSU.

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Media Contact | Colleen Rerucha | | 419-372-7355

Updated: 05/29/2024 09:01AM